Luxembourg is small.
I used that lead once in an article about Israel, but Luxembourg makes Israel look gigantic. Israel's got a big old desert for a gut, and Luxembourg's slim, hourglass figure leaves Israel regretting every extra trip it took to the sand bar. Israel is 8x larger than Luxembourg, a veritable Goliath to the puny European David (and no, that does not include the occupied territories).
Then again, Luxembourg leaves Rhode Island wondering if it should renew its gym membership (you're looking a little boxy, RI).
Anybody who can positively identify Luxembourg's status - not just a city-state, not a random town in Germany, but an independent country - knows it's small. The implications of its size are what's interesting. In this case, the implication that a reasonably fit person can cross the country the long way in less than a day.
The Rough Outline of my trip (click to enlarge)
Last Wednesday, I took the train up to Belgium. There are two ways to take the train to Belgium from Luxembourg-Ville. The fast way is to go to Arlon on the way to Brussels, a 35 km ride that takes 20 minutes. The longer way is to go up to Gouvy, just across the northern border of Luxembourg. That train continues to Liege, and from there one can presumably head off to either Northwest Germany or Amsterdam. I took my red hybrid bike on the train, bought a ticket good up until the Luxembourg border, stayed on for one more stop, and got out an hour later in Belgium.
|The humble Gouvy train station.|
Gouvy is, as best as I could tell, a small town. Once, trains from several different routes ran through the town. Now, there's only the one between Luxembourg and Liege. Liege, for that matter, had the first international train station in the world, and now boasts a modern marvel or monstrosity, depending on your point of view.
|That is the Cafe du Luxembourg over the bike's front wheel. Gouvy boasting its cosmopolitan flair.|
|Friteries are uncommon in Luxembourg, so this is a border hangover to welcome those funky Belgians.|
|To get by Customs, one only needs to offer the officers some grass.|
The northern half of Luxembourg is less populated and less cultivated. Luxembourg has a reputation, being lumped in with Belgium and Netherlands as BeneLux or the low countries, of being flat, but it's not really. The Ardennes mountain range run through this part of the country, and though it's really more like a series of hills, it still offers challenges. A few weeks ago I blundered through some especially difficult riding on the west side of the country. Fortunately, hidden all the way on the eastern spine, I didn't have major trouble biking down the country.
|A detour through a wheat field left me with flies in my eyes and mouth, and on my arm.|
I've noticed while biking around Luxembourg the preponderance of bugs. In general, it's not so buggy here: in our apartment on these summer nights with the balcony door open, a few moths will come in, the occasional mosquito, and, if one leaves the door unattended in the morning, a bird. But bugs aren't a huge problem. Except when biking, where midges and little gnats seem to drop from the air like, well, flies. I've swallowed at least two flies who unwittingly headed straight for my throat, and two or three other ones at least bounced off my craggy teeth. Considering my main form of entertainment while riding, besides looking at farm animals, is singing songs to myself - songs I've written, songs I'm writing, or songs I just made up involving rude drivers or what not - it becomes quite an occupational hazard.
One cool thing about riding in these parts is the recent history you come across. I imagine if anybody's eyes perked up when they read "the Ardennes" above, it had to do with history calling. The northern half of Luxembourg, as well as a contiguous section of Belgium, saw the last German thrust in World War II in what became known as the "Battle of the Bulge". The German attack caught the Allies off guard, creating a bulge in their lines. Regrouped, the Allies beat back the Germans, and the rest of the Western war was fought on German territory. At least as far as monuments go, Luxembourg (and the bordering regions of France and Belgium, at least), remain grateful for the American-led efforts to liberate the country. This small monument is one of many that dot the country.
The American most loved by the memorializing Luxembourgers is General Patton. The leader of the 3rd army died, ironically (or controversially), in the aftermath of a car accident suffered in Germany six months after the war in Europe ended. Per his request to be buried with his men, Patton's body lies about 10 km from where I type this, in the Luxembourg-American cemetery in Hamm. The photo above comes from a memorial to Patton outside the Patton museum in Ettelbruck, the biggest city in the center of Luxembourg (all of 7,600 residents). I somehow lost the photo of my bike beneath a statue of Patton, the General in his army uniform with binoculars in his hands, poised to look across the dangerous Luxembourg countryside.
It was mild coincidence that I happened across these memorials on the 4th of July. I had intended to go for a bike ride and knew it was the 4th, but didn't plan on seeing any memorials. It made for a nice connection though: on Thanksgiving last year, Ben and I visited the cemetery in Hamm on bikes. So I believe I've been as patriotic as one can be for not being in the country on the holidays in question and not spending much time with other Americans.
This bike ride, almost the entire length of the country, was about 85km (roughly 50 miles). The big mental challenge for me was to make it to Ettelbruck, whence I had ridden from/to several times. Ettelbruck is a good center of the country location, and there's a very nice trail along the Alzette river that runs as meekly as the water below. So, satisfied with myself, I took my last photo for the day.
|Me at the border at the beginning of the day. Already sweating. Maybe for the fries.|